A friend of mine called out the blue the other day and told me about a series of business network meetings he had just been on. He hadn't left anywhere near the impression he wanted to and was getting immensely frustrated... He told me that he felt he had done all the 'right things' but people still weren't 'warming' to him. He wore the suit and tie, he brought his business cards and delivered his 30 second elevator pitch word perfect but was still left with the feeling that people didn't want anything to do with him.
At the end of his latest unproductive one he decided to ask his co-worker what he felt the problem was and his answer surprised him... He replied, "Well, everything you do is great, it's perfect, like it's out of some textbook but where's your personality? People don't connect with textbooks, they connect with people... You really should just try being yourself!"
You've heard it before right? Most people have at some stage in their lives... You don't have to be anyone - just be yourself.
This is, in my opinion, the world's most commonly used best and worst advice... and we're not just talking about network meetings here, it crops in all walks of life. Socially, work life, in business, dating you name it, at some point or another we all buy into the illusion that we have to some way compromise our identity just to be deemed 'good enough' or worthy of 'acceptance,' only to be met with the advice from a friend, co-worker or business colleague that you really should "just be yourself."
As I look back in my own past this advice has particular relevance... Up until the last few years I've always had this 'thing' where I felt I had to be like everyone else just to be worthy of acceptance... That somehow by being 'different' I would be pushed to the outside of the social circle and ostracized like some kind of social leper.
I guess it started in my own early socialization years and actually had some relevance at this initial stage. Young kids do tend to have an incredibly low threshold for difference and it can often only take the subtlest of differences to be socially black listed. So as a youngster I did what so many people do and continue to do into adulthood... I changed myself to fit in.
I'm not just talking about changing the odd behaviour here and there, I'm talking about changing nearly everything that felt natural to me. I pretty much compromised all that felt right about my identity just to be part of a group...
Does this sound familiar? Now while this is obviously an extreme example, this notion that 'I had to change who I was just to be deemed good enough' stayed with me into adulthood in some shape or form... It wasn't until the last few years that I realized the irony of this mind set... That in actual fact the opposite has always been closer to the truth! That by feeling the need to change who you are just to be accepted generally strengthens the notion in the eyes of others that you aren't good enough.
So the best advice is, of course, to just be yourself... but why is it also the worst advice? It's also the worst advice because just giving it virtually never helps someone take it on board...
Because when you really get down to it, the real issue isn't that people aren't being themselves, it's that they have bought into the illusion that by presenting themselves just the way they are, that in some way it won't cut it.
For example, say you had a room in your house that was a complete and utter mess. I'm talking plates with 3 days old food and dirty washing strewn all over the place... If you were having a dinner party would you have it in this room? Of course not... chances are you would shut the door and choose a nice clean and pretty room to have it in. The reality is, though, that there is actual nothing wrong with the room... it's a beautiful room... it's just you can't really see it because of all the distractions lying all over the place.
When it comes to being yourself around people, the same is true. It's not that you don't want to be yourself, it's that you've bought into the weird illusion that there is something there that isn't worth showing... something that simply won't cut it... so you take on this different persona, this strange social face like some stage actor or social chameleon. So the trick is not so much to focus on 'just being yourself' but to focus more on why just being yourself is more than good enough.
It really is fairly simple... The more you recognize how worthy and good enough you already are just being you, the more you will find yourself naturally showing the world who you really are... the stripped down, bare, raw version of you that is far more beautiful than you had ever realized.
For me the story of the painter and the sculpture tells it best... The painter turned round to the sculpture one day and asked, "How is it you can carve such beautiful statues out of big lumps of stone?" and the sculpture said, "Well in actual fact I don't... all I do is chip away at what doesn't belong and chisel and refine what's already there."
The same is true with your personality and the sooner you recognise this the sooner you'll show it... there is something beautiful there that you haven't been giving yourself complete credit for. It may have some rough edges that would be worthwhile to chisel and refine but it's there none the less.
Now of course I'm not suggesting that, while you do this, you can't be flexible. You're not going to get very far in life if you can't change and adapt to different situations and people as you go along... Behavioral flexibility is one of the keys to success in any walk of life. There is a huge difference, though, between altering your behaviour to achieve a particular result and compromising your beliefs, values and principles...
And there will of course be times where it's useful to put on a social face or mask to play along with the many games of life for a short period of time. This is inevitable... The problem occurs when we forget it's a game and start believing it's a requirement. So remember the key to just being yourself is to look inside and begin to see the things within that are already wonderful. The aspects that have actually always been there on a day to day basis you've just been too pre-occupied up until now to fully notice.
Putting it Into Practice
Here are three quick tips that you can put into practice immediately...
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